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Foss: Stefanik will still be tough to beat

Foss: Stefanik will still be tough to beat

Foss: Stefanik will still be tough to beat
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik declares victory over Tedra Cobb on Election Night in 2018.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

I know people who live in New York's 21st Congressional District, and they have no plans to vote for U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik in next fall's general election.

But it has nothing to do with impeachment. 

The Republican Congresswoman's prominent role in the impeachment hearings has thrust her and Democratic opponent Tedra Cobb into the national limelight, but seems unlikely to change the contours of a race that will be decided in a district where Republicans have a registration advantage of more than 46,000 active voters. 

That's because there's little evidence that voters are watching the impeachment hearings with an open mind. 

A poll released earlier this week found that 65 percent of Americans can't imagine "any information or circumstances during the impeachment inquiry" that would make them change their minds about impeachment. Just 30 percent of respondents said new information could make them feel differently. 

It would be wrong to say that Stefanik's time in the national spotlight has had no impact on her re-election bid. 

Cobb has been flooded with donations, raising over $1 million in three days and getting public support online from Luke Skywalker - the actor Mark Hamill - himself. 

But winning will require convincing Republicans who live in the 21st Congressional District to cast their ballots for her instead of Stefanik. It will require getting members of the G.O.P. to view President Donald Trump publicly declaring Stefanik a new Republican star as a terrible stain on her character, rather than high praise.

Can Cobb do these things? 

The 2020 election is still a way off, and anything can happen. 

But it will be tough. 

If Democrats view the 21st Congressional District as winnable, it's because it went for former President Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012.

But the ground has shifted. 

Trump won the district by 13.7 points in 2016, and Stefanik easily defeated Cobb two years later, in what turned out to be a pretty good year for Democrats otherwise. There's little reason to think that Trump or Stefanik is vulnerable there, or that impeachment is the game-changer that causes the district to turn blue again. 

The one person who seems sure to benefit from the impeachment hearings is Stefanik herself, who clearly sees supporting Trump during a fraught process as a way to advance and earn favor within her party. 

She's not wrong, although her staunch loyalty to the president might come as a disappointment to those who viewed her as a more moderate and independent kind of Republican. 

But it will likely have little impact on how the voters in her district view her, or her re-election bid. Cobb's supporters are fired up, but Stefanik will be tough to beat. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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